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“And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.” (1 Chronicles 29:13)

The tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving became an annual custom throughout New England in the 17th century, but it was not until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln declared the holiday to fall on the last Thursday of November. It was very clear in Lincoln’s Proclamation where the gratefulness for our many blessings should be channeled. His opening words state: “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.” Lincoln’s established tradition continued until 1939 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a Thanksgiving controversy. He departed from well-established custom by affirming November 23, the next to last Thursday that year, as Thanksgiving. Some Americans refused to honor Roosevelt’s decree, but for the next two years, Roosevelt repeated the unpopular practice. However, on November 26, 1941 – he admitted his mistake and signed a bill into law, officially making the fourth Thursday in November as the national holiday.

Indeed, Thanksgiving controversies continue not because of any Presidential directive but more as a result of our society moving away from what it truly means to be thankful. In most families, Thanksgiving is less about real gratitude and more about over-eating, watching football, or getting out the door as soon as possible to do some early Black Friday shopping. Some actually dread the celebration, because they’re forced to sit in a room with people they really don’t enjoy and cautious not to initiate topics like politics that would be best not discussed. I can remember once talking with a coworker a few days after Thanksgiving, knowing that she had most likely been cooking for her rather large family. By the look on her face, I wished I could take back my question – “How was your Thanksgiving Dinner?” It didn’t take her long to respond with words of disgust, stating – “Well I worked hours making a nice meal for a bunch of ungrateful people.”  I hardly knew what to say but somehow uttered – “I am so sorry.” In years since, I often wondered whether she continued to make Thanksgiving Dinner for those same folks. Furthermore, I have also considered how many families go through a similar experience on what should otherwise be a special time together. Although there may be a feeling of inward gratefulness that is simply unexpressed, the whole reason for saying thanks is to let the giver of a gift know how much you appreciate their effort. Author G. B. Stern once said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”

Many of us will have to admit that we do much the same thing with God. The psalmist reminds us that we should “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation” (Psalm 100:4-5). The gates into God’s presence are always open. The familiar song of Psalm 100 was an invitation for the Israelites to enter into the presence of God through the temple gates. They were to do so with praise and thanksgiving because of God’s steadfast and enduring love. Even when they forgot their identity and wandered away from Him, God remained faithful and still invited them to enter His presence. As a God of consistency, He does the same for us today just as He did for each past generation. As you praise God for who He is and thank Him for what He’s done, your perspective of Him grows larger, your problems grow smaller, and you will experience a deeper sense of intimacy with Him. As we move closer to Christmas, we will find it easy to grumble and voice complaints about the simplest things. But when we are thankful, it’s easier to “put on love . . . and let the peace of Christ” rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:14-15). We will modify our focus and begin seeing moments of sudden glory through the lens of gratitude and praise—glory moments that were there all along but hidden from the grumbling eye. And then our thanksgiving controversies will pass for yet another year.

REFLECTION: Who did President Lincoln suggest should be remembered during the observance of Thanksgiving? Do you struggle with how to show expressions of appreciation? Consider Jesus patterns of giving thanks and apply them to a few real examples for improved appreciation toward God and others.


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